Photo by Frederick
The immense 33-foot-long bomb bay of the Lancaster bomber at
AirVenture 2009 gives pause to visitors.
July 29, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin
- The Canadian Warplane Heritage's (CWH) World War II British Lancaster
bomber used several of its precious 50 annual flying hours to reach
AirVenture 2009. The bomber is required to be torn down for inspection
every 50 hours, and CWH schedulers map out its annual forays accordingly,
explains Laura Hassard-Moran, CWH's flight coordinator.
That flying-time budget means the Lancaster
will not participate in the air show at Oshkosh this year, reserving hours
for the rest of the season. However, the Lancaster is a popular static
display on AeroShell Square, with a queue of visitors squeezing through
the big bomber's confines all day long.
The Lancaster's schedule typically concludes
with a fly-over during Canada's November 11 Remembrance Day. On November
12, volunteers are already tearing the Lancaster down for inspection.
"You look at everything," says CWH Lancaster pilot Richard E.J.
Pulley. Typically the black bomber is back in the air by April, although
this spring, corroded propeller blades took longer to replace.
For this Lancaster, one of 430 built in
Canada, some parts are more American than the British pedigree would
suggest. Propellers are Hamilton-Standards similar to those on the FG-1D
Corsair. The dorsal turret is an American-made Martin top turret packing
twin .50-caliber machine guns instead of the British four-gun .30-caliber
mount typical of the nearly 7,000 Lancasters constructed in England.
Knobby balloon main tires might be a supply problem were it not for the
availability of tire molds in England, Pulley says.
How does the 102-foot wingspan bomber handle?
"It's great in the air, just terrible on the ground," Pulley
says with a smile. "It handles like a mean DC-3."
Pulley explains that the Lancaster was built
with a swiveling tail wheel that cannot be locked. On landing and taxiing,
that dancing tail wheel can make the Lancaster a handful. Pulley says he
can't use differential braking too much during taxi because the brakes
have a limited supply of air pressure. So the trick is to use differential
thrust from the Merlin engines and keep enough power on the inboard
engines to blow a workable slipstream over the tall twin rudders for
From bases in England, the Royal Air Force
sent streams of Lancasters over Germany on night missions as part of the
round-the-clock bombing offensive partnered with the U.S. Army Air Forces.
Their huge bomb bays carried a variety of bomb sizes and types, up to the
huge 22,000-pound Grand Slam weapon. The CWH Lancaster was to have been
part of a campaign against Japanese targets, but the end of the war in
August 1945 kept this bomber out of combat.
The Lancaster on display at AirVenture 2009
flew search-and-rescue sorties out of Newfoundland until 1963. Canadian
Warplane Heritage obtained the Lancaster as a static display in 1978.
Following a 10-year restoration, it first flew in CWH hands in 1988.The
CWH organization is nearly 40 years old. Hassard-Moran says the charitable
group relies heavily on donations and volunteers to keep it operating.
"We get very little in the way of government support," she says.
Hassard-Moran recalls a school tour to the CWH
collection at Mount Hope, Ontario. The big bomber mesmerized one boy, who
was quietly standing in front of it. As the tour departed, he held out 11
cents and offered it as a donation, she recalls. Another time, a visitor
wrote a check for $10,000. She says she appreciates them both, plus all
the other donations that help keep CWH's warbirds flying in North America.